More than $1.5 million in building upgrades for Jefferson Elementary and Winona Senior High School will be considered Tuesday during the Dist. 861 School Board meeting. The upgrades are expected to pay for themselves over time through energy savings, part of a district-wide initiative to consider projects that would make school buildings more efficient.
Energy Savings Group (ESG), the consulting firm for the project, would assist the district. They would operate under a state statute that allows school districts to borrow for projects that would pay for themselves with energy savings over 15 years. The firm guarantees the savings, and would reimburse the district if estimates weren't realized at the end of the 15-year period.
The board was briefed by ESG on its examination of Jefferson Elementary and Winona Senior High School earlier this month, and the $1.5 million in projects were identified as those that would meet the 15-year payback requirement. However, the firm also pitched other building upgrades that would require different funding sources, including two more upgrade “scenarios” that would cost $13 million and nearly $15 million for each building.
A group of administrators and a board member, Steve Schild, previously met with ESG representatives concerning the options, and decided the district should pursue the $1.5 million option not requiring district funds. The other multi-million dollar upgrades, they asserted, should be evaluated after ESG has completed similar assessments of all other district buildings, which are expected to be finished in the spring. Many more millions of dollars in potential projects are expected to be identified in other buildings, both those that would pay for themselves with energy savings, and those that would not. ESG initially studied Jefferson Elementary School because the district has received a grant for a new boiler system at that school that could be part of the energy upgrade projects. Board Chair Greg Fellman added that the Winona Senior High School was also examined first because it is unlikely that district leaders would close that building in future years.
Schild has repeatedly requested that the district take a hard look at “long-term facility planning,” which has been listed as a goal for the superintendent.
During the October 4 board meeting, Schild again called for a study and plan for future building needs, stating that it should be done before the board considers multi-million dollar building upgrades from ESG. Schild asked Superintendent Scott Hannon how long, theoretically, it would be until enrollment projections show all district students could fit into two buildings, to which Hannon said “a few years.”
“I know it’s not that simple and I’m not saying get rid of all of [the buildings] but two, but...” said Schild. He added that if the board wants budget cuts that avoid instructional costs, it needs to have a serious talk about facility planning. “If the enrollment projections are right, and for more than a decade they have been right, we are going to have more physical space than we’ve got enrollment to justify keeping open,” he said.
Oct. 16 meeting
Also on the board agenda for Tuesday is a vote on the district’s annual report on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Read the October 21 edition of the Winona Post for more on the report.